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Bluefin blues

July 17, 2008 |  3:05 pm

Tuna_2  Got tuna? Maybe not for very long. Tuesday about 200,000 fishing boats — almost the entire Japanese fleet — stayed in harbor on a one-day strike to call attention to the economic squeeze they are suffering due to rising fuel prices. As a result, sales at the giant Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo dropped by 25%.

And Toshihide Kawai of downtown L.A.’s International Marine Products sent an e-mail to many of the chefs who shop at his wholesale market warning that seafood supplies might be limited through the rest of the summer. Squid fishermen struck in June, mackerel fishermen are planning a strike in August and, most important for the Southern California market, the Japanese deep-sea tuna fleet is planning on taking two to three months off sometime after the first of August.

David Lefevre, chef at seafood-centric Water Grill, says he hasn’t seen any real effects yet, though he’s aware of Kawai’s warnings because he’s a regular customer there. As far as he’s concerned, it’s just one more bit of bad news on the horizon.

“Really, it’s kind of like that with everything these days,” Lefevre said. “We’re in a really bad situation where gas is going up and products are getting more expensive across the board.

"The toughest part as a restaurateur is we have to pay more for product but still we’re in such a tight economic market that people don’t want to pay more for their meals. Ultimately, what we have to do is try to make sure we still have great product, and still have it at a price people are comfortable with.”

There may be a silver lining, though. Jesse Marsh, fisheries research manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, points out that most of those boats are longliners that contribute to the overfishing of bigeye and yellowfin. And if those tuna become harder to get, maybe that’s a good thing.

“It will be interesting to see what the long-term impact of this is — whether the increase in [fish] prices will lead to a drop in demand, and whether the increase in fuel prices results in a long-term change in fishing.”

Russ Parsons

Photo by Mark Boster